Doing Things, You Don’t Want to Do!
Let’s talk about how you can turn the things that make you feel uncomfortable, into things that are just naturally normal everyday things!
In my work, I often hear from young people who have difficulties in transitioning from a world where your parents take a great deal of responsibility for doing things for you, to a place where you have to start doing more of that stuff for yourself! For example, once upon a time when you were little, if you went to a restaurant with your parents, they would order your food for you. However, now you may be reaching a point in your life where you are expected to do that for yourself.
In the same way, once upon a time, you used to go to the shops and if you wanted something your parents would have paid for it. Perhaps now, you are reaching that point where you are expected to go up to the counter and ask for stuff yourself. Perhaps now you need to figure out the money needed and then make sure that you have got the right change afterwards. Whilst they seem like natural, normal everyday things that adults just crack on and do, actually transitioning into doing them it can be a real challenge.
The good news is that you can develop the confidence that you require and the self-esteem that you need, to be able to do some of those more mature, adult activities.
First, let me just remind you that once upon a time, you quite possibly, did not much like the idea of brushing your teeth. Now, hopefully, this is something that you have got your head around and there is not a parent having to do it for you. It is now just part of your normal, daily routine. You may have had some resistance in the very beginning and even learning to walk was not something that was simple and straightforward. It may have taken a lot of time, perseverance, and effort on your part, to get where you are now. But you made it happen!
It might now, feel like a million years ago, that there was even a time when your parents were perhaps having to do all these things for you or even just help you with it, but all those things were part of your journey. The only difference between then and now is that now, you are much more conscious of the things that you cannot do. So, when we go through a process of learning something, there are actually only four stages to it.
The first stage is that you have what is called ‘unconscious incompetence’. The word ‘unconscious’ simply means that you are not aware of it, you did not even know it was a thing that you were supposed to be doing. The word ‘incompetence’ means that you cannot do it. For example, take brushing your teeth. Once upon a time, you did not know that you had to do it – and you did not care anyway – so that was unconscious incompetence, you did not know-how and you did not care then.
At the second stage, we move to the state of ‘conscious incompetence’. That means that you know what you are supposed to be doing, but you have not yet got the skills to be able to do it. And that is quite possibly where you are with some other aspects of your life now. For example, being able to order your own food in a restaurant. You know that you should be doing it, but you do not feel the skills are quite there to be able to go ahead and order.
The next stage that we move to is, ‘conscious competence’. That means you know what you are supposed to be doing, so you are conscious of it, and ‘competence’ just means that you have got the skills. So, what we are saying is, you are aware of what you need to do, and you have got the skills to do it, but you have to think to make it happen. It is not just happening naturally or automatically for you yet. You have got to consciously think about it and put in the work to make it happen – and this is the next stage that you move to; where you are really starting to expand your skills and embed them so that they can become natural, easy, and automatic for you.
What I see happening sometimes in my work, is that people get stuck at the level of ‘conscious competence’. The reason they get stuck here is because they are just thinking about the thing far too much. If you think about something too much, it becomes a point of focus. Then you can perhaps get a bit anxious about it and that is where we can really start to feel uncomfortable about continuing to develop the skill. The good news is, out of the four stages of learning, this is already staged three – you are only one step away from being able to do this, in a natural, normal, easy-going style.
The final step is when you have got to the stage where it is just something that you do, without even having to think about it. This is ‘unconscious competence’. It is called ‘unconscious’ not because you are asleep, or you’re knocked out in some way. It just means that you are doing it without having to think about the effort that is required.
When you go to sleep at night, you breathe unconsciously – because you do not have to think about breathing, you can do it whilst you are sleeping, it just happens.
‘Unconscious competence’ means that you can do it without having to think about what it means, or how you do it. Once you have got that ability to do it, without thinking about it, that is when the anxiety around doing it begins to vanish – and the really good news is, to get from stage three to stage four, there is just one thing that you have to do, practice!
You must keep putting yourself in those uncomfortable positions so that they become more natural, more automatic for you.
What I see happening even into adulthood, is that sometimes people get so hung up on that stage where they are having to think about what they are doing – and they don’t really want to have to do it – they wish someone else would swoop in and take away all the discomfort and do it for them.
Then we end up in the position, that sadly, people really begin to hold themselves back. Rather than pushing through the discomfort, and practising, they instead avoid the situation completely. Rather than stretching their skills to be able to go and order that food themselves, or pay for that item themselves in the shop, they just get their friend to do it, or get a parent to do it, or just do not even bother going to the shops altogether. They let the anxiety get the better of them. They use it as a reason to avoid those situations, but because of that, it means they may never develop this skill. They never put in the practice to get themselves to that final step, which is being able to do it, without thinking about it at all, and simply just doing it – naturally and automatically.
Here is my challenge for you for the next few weeks.
If there is something that you know other people are able to do – adults are able to do or young people are able to do – that they do naturally, easily and automatically, but you feel you are not quite there with it yet, then I want you to put yourself in the position where you keep practising. Keep putting yourself in front of that scenario, so that you can start to develop the muscles that you need in your brain, to be able to do it with ‘unconscious competence’. Practice believe and practice again…you are already on the way to doing it – easily, naturally and automatically. Good luck!
The original version of this article was written by Gemma Bailey, director of
It was republished and rebuilt with additional content by NLP4KIDS PRACTITIONER IAN DAVIES